Today I was taking a health assessment survey our insurance company provides for us. The assessment asks questions ranging from your current activity level to your personal level of stress to job satisfaction. This got me thinking on how these things are not stand alone, but intertwined. Our lives are not compartmentalized into different, non-related activities. Every think we do impacts everything else we do. Too often work has the greatest impact on our time and even drives our lives. When push comes to shove, exercise is always the last priority even though there is plenty of research that shows fitting in a short walk or activity breaks into the workday can lead to a happier, more productive life. To change what drives your life, I suggest listening to the research and take that short, and I mean short, activity break often during the day.
But you say you don’t have time to take activity breaks. The reality is you don’t have time not to take an activity breaks. People fear that exercising during the day will interfere with their productivity. In a study done by the University of Bristol and Leeds Metropolitan University, it was determined that on exercise days workers reported improvements in mood and performance. Performance gains happened regardless of exercise intensity and workload. (Coulson, Mc Kenna & Field 2008)
Exercise breaks during the day can also attribute to improved workplace happiness. A study of Israeli workers found that job burnout and depression were highest among those who did not exercise. Workers who were physically active reported the lowest incidences of depression and burnout. (Toker & Biron 2012)
Another benefit of exercise is better brain power. Experiencing a mental block? Research finds that physical activity is a great way to overcome that block. In a study volunteers completed memory and cognition tests before and after their respective tasks. Everyone in the exercise group experienced significantly more improvements in mental ability. (Hogan, Mata & Carstensen 2013)
So we do know walking has a wide range of benefits. Walking’s benefits range from simply improving heart health to reducing risks of death and cardio vascular disease. Researchers at Stanford University also learned that taking a walk can help clear your brain and create focus for that big presentation. (Oppezzo & Schwartz 2014) Walking had provided a significant improvement on creativity with an average creative output increase of around 60%. Walking outside gave the creativity even more of a boost. I know for me, a run allows me to formulate many ideas. I suggest bringing some type of audio recording device with you which will allow you to immediately document your creative thoughts.
A surprising side effect of all this exercising is a better paycheck. By comparing exercise habits of similar people in similar occupations, Dr. Vasilios Kosteas, PhD, chair of the economics department at Cleveland State University, in Ohio, found that those who exercised regularly yielded 6% to 10% higher income. It was noted that moderate exercise contributed to greater earning, but those who exercised the most tended to make the most. (Kosteas 2012)
It does not take a lot of exercise to see improvements in cognition, creativity and productivity. Here are a few exercise suggestions which can change your work focus and attitude.
- Chair Squats: Start seated in a chair and stand up. Repeat movement. Do for 1 minute. Upgrade: Do regular squats.
- Desk Push-Ups: Place your hands on your desk about shoulder width apart. Lower the body until elbows reach 90 degrees and press back up. Modification: Stand up and put your hands on a wall or the top edge of the cubicle and do the same motion. Upgrade: Perform push-ups on the floor either on the toes or knees or with the feet elevated on a chair, depending on your fitness level. Do for 1 minute.
- Elbow Plank: Position yourself face down with elbows underneath the shoulders, rest on the knees (modified) or toes (full) and keep the trunk muscles tight. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Dips: Sit in chair, place hands on the sides of the chair and press down until the hips are elevated. Upgrade: Place body in front of chair so you can drop your hips below the seat to increase your range of motion.
- High-Knee March: March in place, bringing knees to hip height. Do for 1 minute.
- Plank knee tuck: Start in push-up position either on desk, top of cubicle, wall or floor. Bring one knee to either the same side elbow or the opposite side elbow. Do for 1 minute.
- Side-step Toe Touch: Step out to the right side and reach down to touch the right foot with the left hand. Be sure to bend at the knee and hip. Repeat with other leg. If mobility is an issue, reach for the knee or thigh instead of the foot. Do for 1 minute.
- Hamstring Curl: In a standing position, bend the knee and bring the heel toward the same-side glute. Return the foot to the floor and perform on the other side. Do for 1 minute.